Early voting is underway. But that no longer means just an extended session of patriotic Americans lined up, patiently and calmly waiting to exercise their right to vote.
Far from it. Now it means shouting matches, taking down signs, and a bunch of other obnoxious behavior. People behaving badly seems to be a bipartisan affair, as well. In one Pennsylvania county, sheriff’s deputies have been called in to provide security at local polling places.
With the country’s collective temperature quickly approaching a high-grade fever, you may be wondering if standing in line at a polling place is safe. Maybe you want to arm yourself, or maybe you’re worried about other people arming themselves.
State Laws Are a Mishmash
Since most aspects of election administration is left to state laws, there is no federal law banning carrying guns at polling places. There are no laws in place in many states either.
According to the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection of Georgetown University, the following states explicitly ban guns at polling places:
- Washington, D.C.
- Puerto Rico
And the following states ban concealed weapons at polling places:
- South Carolina
Other states have additional laws about whether you can carry a gun if your polling place is at a school or some other location that prohibits guns. However, many hotly contested swing states, like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina, do not have any laws regulating guns at polling sites.
Because of that, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has announced that voters there cannot openly carry at polling places. If the building already bans guns, voters will not be able to conceal carry either. Many gun groups denounced the move, saying Benson lacks the authority. It is likely that some will attempt to defy the order, and some sheriffs have refused to indicate whether they would enforce the order.
Voter Intimidation Is Still Illegal
Whether you choose to carry a gun to the polls in a state where it is legal is up to you. But federal law does prohibit voter intimidation. While standing in line to vote while carrying may be legal, you could be arrested if you brandish a weapon while trying to block access to a polling place or harass other voters.
Another form of voter intimidation is showing up to polling places to do the job of police. For example, a private security firm that allegedly recruited veterans to “protect” polling places in Minnesota is now the subject of an investigation by the state attorney general’s office. A handful of state laws explicitly call for police to be present at polling places, while 29 states have laws that only allow police to show up upon request.